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Ghosts From Christmas Past

November 18, 2008

Ebenezer Scrooge is not the only person who has ever been haunted by Christmas’ Past. No doubt each of us is prone to wax melancholy during the holiday season whether it be due to “past regrets” or “present remembrances.” I dare say that there are few who can just sit around the Yule log and recall only joyful, celebrative times during the holidays. (and even if you want to say that you can … having all good times would discredit your memory … for what would you have to compare them to, in order to call them “good”).
And here’s the thing … it’s not that I just sit around trying to collect these bad memories. It is best to let “by-gones be by-gones.” But the old adage, if you don’t learn from the past then you are destined to repeat it, often rings true when it comes to such circumstances in our lives.
And sometimes, when you look back on the things that made you cry at the time … can even bring about a bit of humor now, when measured against maturity and “learning” gained from those circumstances.
I’m going to tell you though … the one thing that absolutely ruined just about every Christmas I had as a child was being a child of D-I-V-O-R-C-E. It was just the makings for a miserable holiday season. My two sisters and I always had to be spread out between the two families. And, even though we loved our daddy, we absolutely hated the “steps” that came with those holiday visits.
My first stepmother was a classic from the Cinderella fairy tale. Oh … if you only knew the internal torment that welled up inside each of us at the thought of spending “pleasant” holiday time with her and hers. She was not kind. She put us down at every opportunity. She bought us clothes that “she just knew would fit,” because she either tried them on or had one of her swiveled up sisters try them on. (which creeped us out from the start) She had a son who was spoiled rotten. He got all sorts of fun gadgets and toys for Christmas, and all year long too. We hated him.
I mentioned her two swiveled up sisters. My stepmother was the healthy one of the three. She weighed more than the other two put together …. And they only weighed about 80 pounds each. One of them, Maxine, was married to a pervert that had drunk himself blind and was usually in a wheelchair at these festive affairs … still drunk. He always wanted one of us to sit on his lap or give him a hug. I’m surprised we made it through the ordeal without seriously disturbing circumstances. Maxine had two sons … one named Mike, who was killed in a construction accident while working for my daddy; and the other one, Danny, which they called, “Booney” — was a homosexual and usually brought a “friend” with him to these gatherings. Sometimes, he was referred to as “Queer Booney,” or “Fruity-Booney.” I was a teenager before I “got it.”
The gatherings were loud, and the people were obnoxious … and I (and my sisters) hated, hated, hated going. It was the nemesis of all the joy we could have hoped for during the holidays. I think those memories still plague our holiday visits with our daddy to this day. It’s hard to shake some things! And we were forced to go. It was obligatory. Today … though I wish it were not that way … it still feels obligatory.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, with my mom … there was a whole ‘nuther kind of drama going on. Where Daddy always had lots of money to spend on Christmas and did … and there was no joy; my mother never had ANY money to spend on Christmas … and there was not much joy there either. But the lack of JOY in either instance had NOTHING to do with money … it just had to do with LACK OF JOY!
We tried to have traditions at my mother’s house. She’d do the Santa Claus thing … and she’d cook Christmas dinner. But due to her ongoing battles with depression or being bi-polar, the momentary ups of the holidays were always followed by plummeting downs. I think she felt bad for not being able to compete with my daddy’s plethora of gifts. I know she went into debt too many times during the holidays only to be overwhelmed with bills in January.
Guilt was also a traditional part of Christmas at my mom’s house. I remember once that she and my step-father had decided to build a chimney to cut utility costs for the winter. They brought my sisters and I into the kitchen and told us that we had a choice for Christmas. We could either have gifts or we could be warm in the winter. It was our choice. (Well, what is a 10, 8 and 6 year old supposed to say?) (The same thing happened one time when there was a school field trip to the circus … You can either have lunch money or go on the field trip … your choice?) I think I was eight at that time.
Drinking was often a part of the holidays at mama’s house too. I remember they went to “office parties” and such … and I remember them going to Chattanooga to buy rum, brandy and wines for Christmas. And then I remember when my sister and I were cheerleaders (I was 11 and she was 7) … and we had a cheerleading Christmas party and had drawn names. My stepfather went out and bought the gifts for us to give to the girl whose name we got. I remember my sister crying and crying because she had to give a “Coors toboggan,” to another 7-year old cheerleader. She knew that she’d be embarrassed and ridiculed because of the gift, especially because this particular cheerleader was from a well-to-do family.
These are holiday memories that tend to “haunt” you.
But then there are some funny memories too. Once, we each got about $10-15 to buy presents for each other. I was about 9, so my sisters were 7 and 5; and my youngest sister bought my mother a plastic banana for her fruit bowl. That was pretty funny. I bought my mother and my stepfather a sweatshirt to share. They all laughed at that too — but my logic was that they shared other clothes, so they could share this.
At no time … in our Christmases with either parent … was Jesus ever mentioned or even referred to. I think that’s why there was no JOY. One very vivid memory I have of Christmas as a child came about as a result of a “fund-raiser” at school. We had been selling candles, and my mother did buy one. I remember lighting the candle which was covered with a glittery paper that also had Mary and baby Jesus imprinted on it. After lighting the candle, I sat it on the mantle over the fireplace (that had been my Christmas present in recent past) … and I remember (even now) how my heart was tendered as I watched the fire glow behind the picture. Something about the picture spoke to my heart — I know now it was the Holy Spirit. And this WAS the only element of Jesus I ever remember from my childhood Christmases.
I do know that after that incident, I always longed for peace and quiet at Christmas time. I longed for feelings of love and nurture … but these feelings were strongly contrasted by bitter fighting and discontent over the years. Often times, there was fighting over whether we’d be at Daddy’s on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. There was fighting between my mother and stepfather over bills, or some gift that didn’t satisfy; and eventually, that there were “others” in their relationships that wreaked havoc on the holidays … and then more drinking and depression ensued.
And yet, I still vividly remembered the candle … the LIGHT … that just subtly crept in one day.
After I was saved at the age of 17, I was so excited to finally be able to experience Christmas for what it was supposed to be. That year, Christmas was extraordinarily special … a dream come true. I had finally come to a place where there was JOY and PEACE and HAPPINESS. That’s one thing I can thank my ex-husband for … it was a good holiday. And I vowed that I would never allow my own children to be haunted by such dysfunction at this most special time of the year.
But then … five years later … they too had to be spread out between families, and the cycle began again.
Luckily, (at least I hope that’s what they would say) Jesus was in our holiday season.
Quite frankly, I wish that Christmas was a holiday completely void of money. I wish the only thing we knew about Christmas was JESUS. While the festivities are nice, and fun and meant to be blessings to others … too, too many times, it all becomes a distraction to the JOY.
Oh how I wish that I could give my children … and all my family for that fact, a Christmas that would diminish all the ghosts of Christmas past. I wish that I could give them all “just JOY” with no distractions. That’s what I wish.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Mommann permalink
    December 12, 2008 6:48 pm

    Thank you for sharing this story. I just now took the time to read it and I feel so very blessed to have had my life. We were poor but I now again realize how very blessed and happy I was as a child. God is working through you to show me these fruits. Thank you.

    Ann

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